National Board of Review & Gotham Awards Mix Big & Small Movies + Star-Studded Spirit Award Nominations

by Anna Robinson
Slumdog Millionaire Dev Patel Freida Pinto: National Board of Review winner ineligible Gotham AwardsSlumdog Millionaire with Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. On its way to becoming 2008's most notable sleeper hit, Slumdog Millionaire has been announced as the National Board of Review's Best Film winner. Danny Boyle's Bollywood-inspired mix of drama, music, romance, and social commentary is already being touted as a likely 2009 Best Picture Oscar contender. The National Board of Review's Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actor recipient Dev Patel stars as a former Mumbai slum dweller who may (or may not) become a millionaire and (sure he will) get the girl (Freida Pinto).

National Board of Review Awards offers indie & studio mix: From 'Slumdog Millionaire' to 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

Near the start of the 2008/2009 awards season, the National Board of Review has given a boost to Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which has been selected as the year's Best Film. Additionally, the Bollywood-inspired socially conscious drama written by Simon Beaufoy shared the Best Adapted Screenplay award while its star, Dev Patel, topped the Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actor category.

The National Board of Review's other major winner was David Fincher's reverse-aging drama The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which shared Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth) with Slumdog Millionaire while Fincher was named Best Director.

Clint Eastwood's box office hit with a message, Gran Torino, also topped two categories: Best Actor (Eastwood) and Best Original Screenplay (Nick Schenk). Anne Hathaway was the Best Actress for Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married.

In the supporting categories, the winners were Penélope Cruz, who shines as an Anna Magnani type in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and Josh Brolin, as San Francisco openly gay politician Harvey Milk's unbalanced murderer in Gus Van Sant's Milk.

Sergei Bodrov's Mongol, about the rise of Genghis Khan, was the Best Foreign Language Film.

National Board of Review Awards

2008 National Board of Review winners: Dec. 4.

Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire.

Top Ten Films (in alphabetical order):
Burn After Reading.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The Dark Knight.
Gran Torino.
The Wrestler.

Best Foreign Language Film: Mongol.

Top Five Foreign Films (in alphabetical order):
The Edge of Heaven.
Let the Right One In.
Roman de Gare.
A Secret.
Waltz with Bashir.

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married.

Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino.

Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk.

Best Ensemble: Doubt.

Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Best Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, Gran Torino.

Best Adapted Screenplay (tie): Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire, and Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Best Animated Feature: WALL-E.

Best Documentary: Man on Wire.

Top Five Documentaries (in alphabetical order):
American Teen.
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon).
Dear Zachary.
Encounters at the End of the World.
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Top 10 Independent Films of the Year:
Frozen River.
In Bruges.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Mr. Foe.
Rachel Getting Married.
Snow Angels.
Son of Rambow.
Wendy and Lucy.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
The Visitor.

Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire.

Best Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Viola Davis, Doubt.

Best Directorial Debut: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River.

Spotlight Award (tie): Melissa Leo, Frozen River, and Richard Jenkins, The Visitor.

NBR Freedom of Expression: Trumbo.

William K. Everson Award For Film History: Molly Haskell & Andrew Sarris.

Gotham Awards: 'Frozen River' tops indie universe

The New York City-based Gotham Awards, aimed to promote U.S.-made smaller, independent films (despite past missteps such as The Departed), were announced on Dec. 2.

The Best Feature winner was Courtney Hunt's human trafficking drama Frozen River, starring Breakthrough Actor winner Melissa Leo and Misty Upham.

Lance Hammer was the Breakthrough Director for the Mississippi Delta-set drama Ballast, which had earned him Best Director honors at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, while (Fahrenheit 9/11 producers) Tia Lessin and Carl Deal's Hurricane Katrina-related Trouble the Water was the Best Documentary.

Notably, Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York and Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona shared the Best Ensemble Performance award. Making the tie doubly notable is the fact that Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a Spanish co-production, one that was partly funded with public money.

Frozen River Melissa Leo: Gotham Awards Breakthrough Actor + Spirit Awards Best ActressFrozen River with Melissa Leo. In Courtney Hunt's Best Feature Gotham Award winner Frozen River, Melissa Leo and Misty Upham find a good way to make a quick buck: a bit of human smuggling from Canada into the United States. A veteran with dozens of film credits, Leo was one of the National Board of Review Spotlight Award recipients (the other one was Richard Jenkins for The Visitor) and the Gotham Awards' Breakthrough Actor winner; besides, she is a contender for the 2009 Best Actress Spirit Award. Update: More than a contender, Melissa Leo was the Spirit Awards' Best Actress winner.

Gotham Awards vs. Academy Awards

Don't expect many of the Gotham Award winners to pop up on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' 2009 Oscar roster. Having said that, it should be noted that the Academy has been giving big nods to small films for at least a couple of decades – a trend that actually began, however intermittently, as early as the 1970s.

As an example, among the 1975 Best Actress and Best Actor nominees were Carol Kane in Hester Street, Maximilian Schell in The Man in the Glass Booth, James Whitmore in Give 'em Hell, Harry!, Glenda Jackson in Hedda, and Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H.

The Oscar's shift away from studio fare has taken place chiefly because big studios have all but stopped making movies for “Academy consideration.” Additionally, the wide availability of screeners/DVDs makes small-budget productions more accessible, and so do cable television/VOD options.

So, Frozen River actress Melissa Leo, for one, does have a not insignificant chance of landing a Best Actress Academy Award nomination early next year.

Gotham Awards

2008 Gotham Award nominations: Oct. 20. Gotham Award winners: Dec. 2, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.

Best Feature

Lance Hammer, director; Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh, producers.

* Frozen River.
Courtney Hunt, director; Heather Rae, Chip Hourihan, producers.

Synecdoche, New York.
Charlie Kaufman, director; Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Sidney Kimmel, producers.

The Visitor.
Tom McCarthy, director; Mary Jane Skalski, Michael London, producers.

The Wrestler.
Darren Aronofsky, director; Scott Franklin, Darren Aronofsky, producers.

Best Documentary

Chris & Don: A Love Story.
Guido Santi & Tina Mascara, directors; Julia Scott, Tina Mascara, Guido Santi, James White, producers.

Encounters at the End of the World.
Werner Herzog, director; Henry Kaiser, producer.

Man on Wire.
James Marsh, director; Simon Chinn, producer.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.
Maria Zenovich, director; Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Lila Yacoub, Marina Zenovich, producers.

* Trouble the Water.
Tia Lessin & Carl Deal, producers / directors.

Best Ensemble Performance (tie)

Micheal J. Smith, Sr., JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, Johnny McPhail.

Rachel Getting Married.
Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Mather Zickel, Anna Deavere Smith, Anisa George, Debra Winger.

* Synecdoche, New York.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Tom Noonan.

* Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz.

The Visitor.
Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbas, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira.

Breakthrough Director
Antonio Campos, Afterschool.
Dennis Dortch, A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy.
* Lance Hammer, Ballast.
Barry Jenkins, Medicine for Melancholy.
Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer.

Breakthrough Actor
Pedro Castaneda, August Evening.
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married.
Rebecca Hall, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
* Melissa Leo, Frozen River.
Alejandro Polanco, Chop Shop.
Micheal J. Smith Sr., Ballast.

Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You

Antonio Campos, director; Josh Mond, Sean Durkin, producers.

Taylor Greeson, producer/director.

The New Year Parade.
Tom Quinn, director; Steve Beal, Tom Quinn, producers.

* Sita Sings the Blues.
Nina Paley, producer/director.

Jake Mahaffy, director; Jake Mahaffy, Jeff Clark, producers.

Penélope Cruz.
Gus Van Sant.
Sheila Nevins.
Melvin Van Peebles.

Rachel Getting Married: Anne Hathaway drug rehab patient wins National Board of ReviewRachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway. Geared to the American independent – or at least independentish – film industry, the Spirit Awards, much like the Golden Globes, just loves movie stars. One of them this year is Anne Hathaway, who plays a drug rehab patient attending her sister's wedding in Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married. Demme's drama, in fact, was quite popular among the Spirit Award voters, earning six nominations, including Best Film. Additionally, the Rachel Getting Married cast was shortlisted for the Gotham Awards, while Hathaway, a shoo-in Oscar contender, was the National Board of Review's Best Actress winner.

Star-studded Spirit Award nominations include 'Rachel Getting Married' & 'Milk'

The Southern California-based Spirit Awards announced its list of nominees on Dec. 2, the same day the New York City-based Gotham Awards announced their winners.

As so often happens, the Spirit Awards are once again dominated by small (or at the very least smaller) movies featuring big (or at the very least bigger) names.

Examples range from Gus Van Sant's Milk – in the running for Best Actor (Sean Penn), Best Supporting Actor (James Franco), Best First Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black), and Best Cinematography (Harris Savides) – to Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married – in the running for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Supporting Actress (Rosemarie DeWitt and Debra Winger), and Best First Screenplay (veteran Sidney Lumet's daughter and Lena Horne's granddaughter, Jenny Lumet).

Curiously, U.S. critics' fave Milk was not shortlisted in the Best Film category. Equally curious, The Wrestler is up for Best Film but Darren Aronofsky is nowhere to be found among the Best Director contenders.

Spirit Awards vs. Gotham Awards

Three of the Spirit Award nominees for Best Film were also shortlisted in the Gotham Awards' Best Feature category: Ballast, Frozen River, and The Wrestler.

Among the Gothams' Breakthrough Actor contenders, only Rosemarie DeWitt and eventual winner Melissa Leo (Frozen River) are in the running for the Spirit Awards. Leo has been shortlisted in the latter's Best Actress (or Best Female Lead) category.

The Gothams' only Breakthrough Director in contention for a Best Director Spirit Award is Lance Hammer for Ballast.

And here's something else the Gotham and the Spirit Awards have in common: the absence of National Board of Review winner Slumdog Millionaire from their nominations roster.

This awards season's Cinderella story in-the-making, Slumdog Millionaire is a mostly Anglo-Indian production. As such, it seems to have been ineligible for both the Gothams and the Spirits. Curiously, Danny Boyle's sleeper hit also failed to be shortlisted in the Spirit Awards' Best Foreign Film category.

Spirit Awards: Winners & nominations

2009 Spirit Award nominations: Dec. 2 '08.

Update: Spirit Award winners: Feb. 21 '09.

BEST FILM (award given to the producer) 
Ballast. Prod.: Lance Hammer, Nina Parikh.
Frozen River. Prod.: Chip Hourihan, Heather Rae.
Rachel Getting Married. Prod.: Jonathan Demme, Neda Armin, Marc Platt.
Wendy and Lucy. Prod.: Larry Fessenden, Neil Kopp, Anish Savjani.
* The Wrestler. Prod.: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin.

* The Class (France). Dir.: Laurent Cantet.
Gomorrah (Italy). Dir.: Matteo Garrone.
Hunger (U.K. / Ireland). Dir.: Steve McQueen.
Secret of the Grain (France). Dir.: Abdellatif Kechiche.
Silent Light (Mexico / France / The Netherlands / Germany). Dir.: Carlos Reygadas.

Ramin Bahrani, Chop Shop.
Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married.
Lance Hammer, Ballast.
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River.
* Tom McCarthy, The Visitor.

Summer Bishil, Towelhead.
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married.
* Melissa Leo, Frozen River.
Tarra Riggs, Ballast.
Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy.

Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor.
Sean Penn, Milk.
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker.
* Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler.

* James Franco, Milk.
Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker.
Charlie McDermott, Frozen River.
Jim Myron Ross, Ballast.
Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor.

* Penélope Cruz,  Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married.
Rosie Perez, The Take.
Misty Upham, Frozen River.
Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married.

* Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Sugar.
Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, New York.
Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace.
Christopher Zalla, Sangre de Mi Sangre.

* Dustin Lance Black, Milk.
Lance Hammer, Ballast.
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River.
Jonathan Levine, The Wackness.
Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married.

BEST DOCUMENTARY (award given to the director)
The Betrayal, Dir.: Ellen Kuras & Thavisouk Phrasavath.
Encounters at the End of the World, Dir.: Werner Herzog.
* Man on Wire, Dir.: James Marsh.
The Order of Myths, Dir.: Margaret Brown.
Up the Yangtze, Dir.: Yung Chang.

* Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler.
Lol Crawley, Ballast.
James Laxton, Medicine for Melancholy.
Harris Savides, Milk.
Michael Simmonds, Chop Shop.

BEST FIRST FEATURE (award given to the director and producer)

Director: Antonio Campos.
Producers: Sean Durkin, Josh Mond.

Medicine for Melancholy.
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Producer: Justin Barber.

Sangre de Mi Sangre.
Director: Christopher Zalla.
Producers: Per Melita, Benjamin Odell.

Sleep Dealer.
Director: Alex Rivera.
Producer: Anthony Bregman.

* Synecdoche, New York.
Director: Charlie Kaufman.
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel.

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000; award given to the writer, director, and producer)

* In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Writer / Director: Alex Holdridge.
Producers: Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy.

Prince of Broadway.
Director: Sean Baker.
Writers: Sean Baker, Darren Dean.
Producer: Darren Dean.

The Signal.
Writer / Directors: David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry.
Producers: Jacob Gentry, Alexander Motlagh.

Take Out.
Writer / Director / Producers: Sean Baker, Shih-Ching Tsou.

Turn the River.
Writer / Director: Chris Eigeman.
Producer: Ami Armstrong.

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD (Given to one film's director, casting director, and its ensemble cast)
* Synecdoche, New York.
Director: Charlie Kaufman.
Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy.
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis. Philip Seymour Hoffman. Jennifer Jason Leigh. Catherine Keener. Samantha Morton. Tom Noonan. Emily Watson. Dianne Wiest. Michelle Williams.

Barry Jenkins, director of Medicine for Melancholy.
Nina Paley, director of Sita Sings the Blues.
* Lynn Shelton, director of My Effortless Brilliance.

* Margaret Brown, director of The Order of Myths.
Sacha Gervasi, director of Anvil! The Story of Anvil.
Darius Marder, director of Loot.

Lars Knudsen and Jay Van Hoy, producers of Treeless Mountain & I'll Come Running.
Jason Orans, producer of Goodbye Solo & Year of the Fish.
* Heather Rae, producer of Frozen River & Ibid.


National Board of Review website.

Gotham Awards website.

Spirit Awards website.

Freida Pinto and Dev Patel Slumdog Millionaire image: Celador Films / Film4 / Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Melissa Leo Frozen River image: Sony Pictures Classics.

Anne Hathaway Rachel Getting Married image: Sony Pictures Classics.

“National Board of Review & Gotham Awards Mix Big & Small Movies + Star-Studded Spirit Award Nominations” last updated in March 2018.

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